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Kagan Nomination Adds Fuel to Dems' Fight in PA Senate Race

Just when you thought the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania could not get any more contentious, along comes a Supreme Court nomination that revives incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter's previous life as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, who opposed Elena Kagan for her current job as Solicitor General, and his opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, wasted no time in reminding and attacking.

"My opponent, Senator Specter, has already made his views about the President's nominee clear by voting against her confirmation to be Solicitor General, even as seven of his fellow Republicans approved her nomination. I expect Senator Specter may backtrack from his earlier vote on Ms. Kagan this week in order to help himself in the upcoming primary election, but the people of Pennsylvania have no way of knowing where he will stand after May 18," Sestak said in an e-mailed statement, adding a stinging reach-back in history to Specter's pointed opposition of Anita Hill, who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, "Senator Specter's fitness to evaluate Supreme Court nominees is a matter of serious concern."

In March 2009, after extensive on-camera and in writing questioning, as well as a private, one-on-one meeting, Specter voted against Kagan for essentially not giving him enough information to go on.

This is an ongoing battle between senators and nominees, especially those up for a lifetime appointment. Specter said, at the time, "I think it is pretty plain that Dean Kagan will be confirmed. But I do not articulate this as a protest vote or as a protest position, but one of institutional prerogatives. We ought to know more about these nominees. We ought to take the confirmation process very seriously."

It's unclear what Specter will do now, but in a statement Monday he makes clear he's open to voting "yes" but certainly does not rule out a "no."  (In past experiences, Specter likes to "keep his powder dry" in this nomination process --- keeping his decision on a nominee to himself till the very end. It will be interesting to see what he does now, giving the impending primary.)

"I applaud the President for nominating someone who has a varied and diverse background outside the circuit court of appeals," Specter said, adding, "I voted against her for Solicitor General because she wouldn't answer basic questions about her standards for handling that job. It is a distinctly different position than that of a Supreme Court Justice. I have an open mind about her nomination and hope she will address important questions related to her position on matters such as executive power, warrantless wiretapping, a woman’s right to choose, voting rights and congressional power."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee reacted to Specter being open to a "yes" vote.  “As Arlen Specter trails liberal extremist Joe Sestak in a number of recent polls, the only thing that has changed is Specter’s own personal political standing. Once again, Pennsylvanians are reminded that Specter will literally do or say anything to preserve his own job, and if he makes it to the General Election, there’s no doubt that voters will hold him accountable for his unprincipled and politically-expedient flip-flops on the critical issues facing our country,” said NRSC Press Secretary Amber Marchand in a statement.

The latest polling in this race has the two men tied.  A Muhlenberg poll has them at 43% each; Rasmussen has Sestak ahead 47% to 42%. the first time Sestak has been ahead in the race.